Comparing Religions II: World Evangelism

Having introduced the subject of comparing religions, we will now analyze the first question:

1. Has the religion persuaded a significant fraction of the world population, outside a single ethnic group, to believe in it?

One of the reasons for this question is that few people have time to investigate all of the numerous religions that exist.  (I've done more than most people ever will, but there are still huge gaps in my knowledge.)  Since it is not possible to do a complete analysis of every religious tradition, one must have some way of sifting out the more likely candidates from the less likely ones.  Whatever criterion one uses for this sifting, it has to be something which can be measured prior to doing an in-depth investigation.

In persuasive writing, it is generally considered most rhetorically effective to lead with one of your stronger arguments, so that people don't dismiss your case out of hand.  But here, the nature of the subject requires me to lead with one of the weaker arguments for a religion, namely its popularity.  But it is not so weak that it doesn't deserve careful consideration.  Later on, we will discuss some more dispositive tests.

Ad populum (appeal to mass belief) is not necessarily a fallacy, when it is used only as a probability argument rather than a deductive argument.  I would never say that a large number of adherents guarantees that a religion is correct; obviously not.  Many completely wrong beliefs (e.g. homeopathy and astrology) still have lots of people who swear by them.  There are, however, some cogent reasons why a true religion is likely to have more adherents than it would if it were false.  So while the fact that a significant fraction of the world population believes in something cannot (taken by itself) be enough reason to accept it, I do think it justifies taking it seriously enough to investigate its truth.

All Else being Equal, Truth is More Convincing

Presumably a true religion is more likely than a false one to be found convincing by a broad range of people.  It is also more likely to be regarded as important enough to share with others.  While human beings are far from infallible, it says something good about a religion if it can pick up a large number of voluntary converts.  At least some people take into account reason and evidence (and any "signs" they may happen to witness) when deciding what to believe; so all else being equal, truth should provide a religion with a survival advantage.  (If this were not true, then there would be very little point in writing blog posts analysing the evidence for or against religion, because nobody would take them into account.)

It is especially impressive if a religion has been found plausible by people from many different cultures and backgrounds.  A religion might take off in a single ethnic group because of some fluke of history.  On the other hand, a multicultural distribution suggests that perhaps the religion contains something true to life, that it is in some way suited to the human condition at large, not just one cultural milieu.  If it has seemed insightful to many kinds of poets, philosophers, and peasants, then it probably contains at least some element of universally valid truth.

A Census of World Religions

If even 1 in a thousand people (worldwide) investigate religions in a sufficiently sensible and open-minded way to identify the truth (whatever it is), then it would follow that the true religion must have at least 7 million adherents or so, which would narrow us down to about a dozen possibilities (according to the website in 2014.)  If you scroll down past the pie chart of the first link, you'll come to the following list:

  1. Christianity (2.1 billion)
  2. Islam (1.5 billion)
  3. Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist (1.1 billion)
  4. Hinduism (900 million)
  5. Chinese traditional religion (394 million)
  6. Buddhism (376 million)
  7. primal-indigenous (300 million)
  8. African Traditional and Diasporic (100 million)
  9. Sikhism (23 million)
  10. Juche (19 million)
  11. Spiritism (15 million)
  12. Judaism (14 million)
  13. Baha'i (7 million)
    [+additional religions with 4.2 million religions or fewer]

Of course, many of these categorization decisions are questionable.  Nonreligious is by definition the absence of a religious commitment (although Communism might be regarded as a religious substitute for a substantial minority of these people); Chinese traditional represents various admixtures of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and ancestor worship; indiginous or African traditional are umbrella terms for thousands of different pagan religious traditions (most of which would have less adherents than Baha'i if taken individually); while Juche is just the state ideology of the North Korean dictatorship (which has approximately the same moral credibility as Nazism).  Fringe Christian or Islamic cults might be better regarded as separate religions, and some of them (like Mormonism) I will be treating as separate religions in subsequent posts.  But the exact division is not very important.  The point is that there are really only a small number of options on the table, if you use the rest of humanity to sift out the options that have been found most plausible.

(That being said, if there is some particular religion with fewer adherents that you have some reason to think is specially promising, I'm not saying that you shouldn't investigate it.  But it is reasonable to start with more popular religions.)

Another Reason to Consider Popularity: Divine Favor

A true religion is also more likely to have divine favor assisting its spread across the world (assuming of course that the religion is theistic).  I don't want to put too much emphasis on this, since the worship of strength and worldly success is one of the crudest of all religions.  My own religion centers around the Cross, therefore it is (or ought to be) on the side of the unjustly persecuted everywhere.  Might does not make right.  Yet sometimes, when human hearts are receptive, right makes for might.  Truth may be weak, but sometimes this weakness is itself a paradoxical form of strength, as Gandhi showed in India, and the Civil Rights Movement showed in America.

If there is a religion revealed by God, then it is an obvious sociological fact that not everyone on earth has accepted the message.  For whatever reason, it is not the divine will to overawe everyone into accepting it (at least, not yet).  But if it is a genuine revelation, one expects that he would protect and defend it to some extent, at least enough to accomplish whatever goals he has in revealing the message.

At the very least, extinct religions like e.g. Greek or Egyptian polytheism are probably not worth taking very seriously—if those gods are at all real, why would they have allowed their names to be completely forgotten, except as fodder for dissertations, garden statuary, and comic books? It took a lot of kahunas for the prophet Jeremiah, way back in the 600s BC when the Jews were surrounded by polytheists, to taunt the followers of other gods by telling them (in Aramaic, the international language):

“These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens” (Jer 10:11).

But in quite a large portion of the globe, including of course the Middle East where Jeremiah was prophesying, this is exactly what has happened.  (This process is not yet complete, but if a prophet had predicted that all the world would one day consist of blue-skinned people, and then over the next few centuries half of the people on the planet had turned blue, I would start taking the rest of what he said more seriously, even if it hadn't yet happened to everyone!)

The Jewish Origins of the Idea of Progress

Historically, it was extremely unusual, in the pre-Christian world, for a religion to predict its own global dominance.  As moderns we think that every ideology should predict a future in which it is more widely successful, but that's not how most people thought back then.  The ancients usually expected that the world would keep on going more or less as it was before, or maybe keep getting gradually worse.  As Westerners we are used to ideologies having an eschatological aspect—looking forward to a future utopian society that is a radical improvement on the present—but the reason we think this way is precisely because of the influence of Judaism!  (The only other eschatological pre-Christian religion I know of is Zoroastrianism, which presumably either got it from Judaism, or else influenced Judaism in this respect.)

Universal vs. Ethnic Religions

The Jews did not (and still do not) regard it as necessary for pagans to become Israelites in order to be saved.  The Hebrew prophets spoke against idolatry and polytheism, but they foresaw the worldwide acceptance of pure Monotheism as a sign of the future Messianic Era, not as a realistic goal for the present day.

However, at the time of the Roman Empire, there were a large group of "God-fearers", who came to believe in the truth of Judaism, but did not formally convert due to the burdensome nature of Jewish ritual.  A lot of these people later became Christians, once it became clear that you didn't have to become a Jew in order to be a full member of the Christian Church.

If this model is right, then God cultivated an ethnic religion for a limited period of time, in order to produce the right circumstances in which the Messiah could come.  But now that he has come, Christianity is a religion for all people, in fulfilment of God's promises:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6)

Hence, if we wish to find a worthy rival to Christianity, it should probably be a universal religion, i.e. its message should be sufficiently relevant to the perennial human condition, that it can be adopted by people from every culture and tribe, without completely wrenching them out of their social context.  A religion cannot really be considered cosmic in scope, if it isn't even able to be cosmopolitan.  This criterion rules out a large number of purely ethnic and tribal religions.

If God were still restricting his message primarily to a single ethnic group, presumably the rest of us would not be judged too harshly for not being in on the program.  Even the insiders might not think you have a moral obligation to join their group.  This makes it a lower priority to investigate ethnic religions such as Judaism or Hinduism (unless of course you happen to belong to one of these groups already).

As the most extreme case of ethnic exclusion, some religions currently forbid conversion altogether, for example traditional Parsees (Zoroastrians in India), and the Druze (in the Middle East).  These religions also forbid their adherents to marry outsiders.  There's just no way to get in, even if you wanted to!

Other religious traditions teach that God reveals himself through all cultures and therefore it is counterproductive to cast aside your ancestral teachings in favor of theirs.  These religions may discourage converts: for example, a woman from the church I grew up in became interested in Hinduism, and went to India to study under a guru.  He told her to go back to the USA, saying that she wasn't done being a Christian yet!  I've heard other anecdotes along similar lines, so apparently this attitude is fairly common among Hindu teachers.

Then there are various small religions (such as Baha'i, which is right on the edge of my somewhat arbitrary 1/1000 threshold) that are clearly intended to be international in scope, but have failed to achieve a very large number of converts to their cause.

(In some cases this might be because the religion is new.  Of course all religious movements start out small, so we can't place too much weight on this criterion or it would imply that nobody should have followed Jesus at the beginning, when he only had a few disciples.  At the same time, it seems reasonable to say that an untested charismatic cult leader needs to clear a higher bar than a well-established religious tradition.)

Hence, to score top points on this criterion, it is best to have already convinced a significant fraction of the world.

The Three Big Evangelical Religions

These considerations suggest we should focus the most attention on Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism.  These are the 3 world religions which have had the most success in gaining converts even in radically different cultures, the ones whose message has been perceived as "Good News" to numerous people groups around the world.  (But I will still try to say some things about other religions as well, to the extent that my limited knowledge allows.)  To what extent their religious teachings actually are good news—well, that is a subject for the later posts!

Of these three "evangelical" religions, the spread of Islam is somewhat marred by the fact that the early spread of Islam, starting during Mohammad's lifetime and continuing for several centuries thereafter, was largely due to military action and subsequent cultural imperialism.  Although obviously Muslims would attribute this rapid spread to God's will, from a human point of view it seems that the sword discriminates among truths far more clumsily than rational discourse does.  (There are however a few countries, such as Indonesia, where the spread of Islam seems to have largely occurred through peaceful means such as trade.)

Of course some Muslim historians will insist that each of these conquests was morally justified by various particular circumstances.  But, to paraphrase a bit of popular wisdom: anyone might meet one or two jerks, but if everyone you meet seems to be a jerk, then you should consider the possibility that you might be the jerk, and they're just reacting to your personality.  In particular, any group that tries to conquer large parts of the world by the sword, should not be too surprised when the other countries look on with dismay and try to fight back.  (Here I am speaking historically, and not attempting to justify any particular modern wars.)

It actually took several centuries for these conquests to result in a majority for Islam in the Middle East and North Africa.  At first it was mainly the rulers of the conquered lands who were Muslims.  While pagans were required to convert at swordpoint, monotheistic groups such as Jews, Christians, Mandaeans (yes, there still exist followers of John the Baptist who never converted to Christianity!—although by now they have become very gnostic and reject even Moses), and Zoroastrians were generally tolerated, so long as they accepted second-class citizenship (dhimma), paid extra taxes (jizya), and did not try to convert Muslims to their religion.  Over the long run these legal disadvantages gave Islam a decisive advantage.

Mind you, at times the situation for Jews or "heretics" in medieval Europe was even worse than this.  It is easy to find examples of persecution of religious minorities in Christian history.  (Officially speaking, the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy only asserted authority over baptized individuals, but sometimes local rulers would impose Christianity on their domains, and then later the Church would try to enforce orthodoxy in these populations since they were now "Christians".)

Even Buddhists have sometimes engaged in religious persecution, e.g. historically in Japan, and at the present in Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma).  A college friend once tried to argue to me that anyone who persecuted other people wasn't a real Buddhist and therefore didn't count.  But this was an obvious use of the No True Scotsman ploy.  In my opinion the Christians who persecuted people weren't in that respect very good examples of Christianity either, but they still existed.

However, I think it is fair to say that both Christianity and Buddhism usually spread to new cultures primarily through evangelism.  This is especially true in their early years, and also in the contemporary world.

For example, after converting to Buddhism, the Indian king Ashoka (formerly a cruel tyrant) seems to have become a pacifist who promoted religious toleration (although there are some contrary traditions whose accuracy is disputed); his support for missionary activity in other countries helped spread Buddhism to many other nations.  And for the first 3 centuries the Christian Church rapidly expanded, even though it had no control over the government and intermittently went through periods of severe persecution, prior to its legalization by the first Christian Emperor, Constantine.

Of course there were plenty of instances of persecuting others which occurred after these religions were well-established.  But it is open to both Buddhists and Christians to claim that the persecutors were bad examples, that they were ignoring the explicit instructions of their own sacred texts, and ought to have known better.  And perhaps that, in the long run, their religion would have advanced just as well or even better, without the aid of violent support.  It is not really open for a Muslim to say the same thing, because then they would have to disown their own Prophet and his immediate followers.  Of course they can still renounce particular instances of expansion through warfare, as being done in an inappropriate time or manner, but they cannot renounce it on principle.

(Christians do have to deal with divinely commanded warfare in the Old Testament, although this was not for evangelical purposes and was geographically limited.  There was no command to spread Judaism to other nations by conquest!  I will reserve discussion of the ethics of this violence until later, but it does introduce our next topic, namely continuity with other religions.)

Next: Ancient Roots

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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16 Responses to Comparing Religions II: World Evangelism

  1. Dominic says:

    Glad to see this continue!

  2. Anne K says:

    Interesting. When I was doing my own due diligence and reviewing various faiths, I decided to look at the top 10 world faiths. I figured that if God was both real and interested in giving people a way to know the Divine, then the truth should at least have managed to be in the top 10; and if the truth wasn't to be found in the top 10 then ... the premise of my search was faulty, and probably then futile.

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

  3. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks Anne! Do you remember which top ten list of religions you used in your search? I'm curious because it's not always completely obvious what should be counted as a single "religion"...

    In the list I was using, Judaism doesn't even make the top 10 cut. But that's sort of a special case, since the Jews have had a strongly outsized influence on other religions despite their small numbers. Also, it would have made the top 10 if it weren't for the Holocaust. :-(

  4. Mactoul says:

    Hinduism itself is a pretty successful multi ethnic religion. So much that it has welded disparate ethnics into a single nation. Entire south east Asia was once Hindu too.
    So this criterion does not rule out Hindhism

  5. Anne K says:

    Hm, which top 10 list; it's been awhile. I didn't note the source at the time but I'm sure it didn't have Juche, and don't think it made as many distinct groups out of the various traditional religions without organized belief systems so that they didn't take up quite so many slots. Also where the list that you're using has "Chinese Traditional", this one described it more in terms of a Taoist/Confucianist system. I'm fond of both the Tao Te Ching and Confucius; I count those as some treasured volumes on my bookshelf. Though I got both of those before I had decided to do any kind of organized read-through of world religions.

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

  6. Kyle says:

    I like this series so far. Let me ask you this though, in regards to this specific post. If in the future, some of these religions no longer existed, would it have any bearing on their veracity? Or would you say that their historical appeal, sans finding direct evidence at some point against, still gives them weight?

    I remember an old atheist pop quote about how if no one taught their children religion it would be gone in a matter of years. To which I would respond that this a priori assumes that divine revelation is not a thing.

  7. As an occasional reader I wanted to say that I really appreciate your blog and I am interested and excited that you have tackled this subject.

    Like you and Anne I also reviewed various faiths. This was during my 20s when I was still a Christian but was questioning my understanding of it (and attracted to Christian Universalism, which I still find attractive but that I do not think fits with my view of our relation to God and the central importance of free will). While I now see God's hand in my life through my path in my late teens and early 20s, at the time I was unsure of the path I was following.

    While this period was in the early 00s and the late 90s, I have stayed interested in comparative religions even as I have stayed close to my Christian roots (and in some sense have become more traditional in my Christian faith than I was raised). One of the books I have read since then was God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World. The 8 considered in the book are Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Yoruba Religion, Daoism and Atheism (really Western Humanism). I remember not having studied into Yoruba Religion in the late 90s/early 00s.

    In the late 90s/early 00s I mainly studied Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Western Humanism and Hinduism.

    More recently I have continued to be interested in Hinduism and have become more interested in Zoroastrianism. But this is somewhat based on their links to the pre-Christianity (and non-greek) religions in the Middle East.

  8. Severian says:

    Its maybe worth noting that Rodney Stark has an argument for a later development of Zoroastrianism than is commonly held.

  9. kashyap vasavada says:

    Hi Aron,
    Congratulations for your very ambitious project on discussing all religions. I can understand why you find understanding of Hindu religion vexatious! Even though some of us were born in Hindu families, we do have vastly different ideas about it. Hinduism is the most misunderstood religion in west. Yes it is religion! But with lot of freedom of beliefs built in. It is several thousand years old, older than most of the other religions. The original name was Sanatana Dharma. Persians called the people living on the bank of river Sindhu as Hindus and unfortunately the name Hinduism is stuck! Over that time many different aspects were added on. There was no single prophet. The basic religion was started with the scriptures Vedas and Upanishads which many people believe were revealed by the creator Brahma at the beginning of the universe. It talks about a formless ultimate consciousness called Brahman (different from Brahma the creator, please notice the difference) perhaps similar to the primordial quantum vacuum of modern physics. Deities were introduced later for people who find it difficult to concentrate on formless Brahman. They are so called Avatars who come to earth in living (mostly Human) forms to fix things whenever societies go wayward and help in reestablishing the rules of virtuous behavior (called Dharma). Because of freedom of belief, everyone is allowed to believe in his /her own version of God, hundreds of gods came up and mythological stories were built up around them. But the central belief is that there in one God and only God! Everyone worshiping his/her favorite deity recognizes the only God behind it. Personally I like the original version of Vedas and Upanishads of Brahman. Buddhism is an off shoot of the original Hinduism.

    I have written a guest blog,
    Although I do not like the language and many ideas expressed on that blog, I use it to keep up with developments in theoretical physics and related mathematics. I have written a much more detailed philosophical article. Concepts of Reality in Hinduism and Buddhism from the perspective of a physicist which will be published in March issue of a journal, Journal of East West Thought. If these references are against your policy of not allowing commenters to publicize their own work, please feel free to delete them.

    I am sorry for the experience of this lady who wanted to convert to Hinduism and could not. But it is true. I can see why some orthodox guru gave a cruel blunt answer to her. Hinduism always believed in acceptance of all paths. It says there are thousand ways to seek God. It never said “Our way is right. If you do not believe in our God you will go to hell!” So historically there was no procedure for conversion. In fact some people do not like this. Just about all non-Hindus in India are decedents of converted Hindus. Only recently a branch called “ARYA SAMAJ” introduced conversion ceremony. That lady is most welcome to go to Hindu temples and Vedanta societies. There are many all over U.S. Then learn by talking to scholars and reading books. In the end it will not make any difference. She is in spirit Hindu! This is already a long comment. I have answers to all your 11 questions for Hinduism. If you permit space, I can write in the next comment. Also I have written a guest blog and articles, for western audience. If you allow, I can post links to these. Otherwise, luckily my name is very unusual for U.S. So my webpage will come out if you google with my name, not that I am famous!! Thanks. If you permit space, I can write in the next comment.

    [I rescued this comment from the spam filter and merged it with another similar comment by the same author. If this happens again, please email me. My comment rules do allow you to link to your own work, and you are also very welcome to continue posting in these threads, including your answers to my 11 questions for Hinduism! This is supposed to be a place where people with different views can politely engage with each other, and you have been a model of polite engagement.--AW.]

  10. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, everybody!

    Do you have a link? The date of Zorostraianism will actually come up in a future installment.

    That's an interesting question. As a general rule, if a philosophical position is once popular and then becomes unpopular, that may or may not be an indicator of its falsehood. You have to look and see why it became unpopular and whether this was based on actual evidence or just a change in sensibilities.

    However, I think in the case of theistic religions, there is an additional issue in that the annihilation of the religion could be reasonably taken to suggest a lack of power or existence of the deity in question, especially if that deity promised this would not happen. In particualar, I think the Hebrew Prophets definitely predicted that Israel will never be totally destroyed---so if anybody did succeed in killing all the Jews, I think that would falsify Judiasm. Similarly, we have Jesus' promise (Matt 16:18) that his Church will never completely perish from the Earth.

  11. Aron Wall says:

    So of course I agree that India is a multi-ethnic nation, but to a large extent this was accomplished by allowing each ethnic group to keep its own religious practices. For example, Brahmanism is the religious tradition of one particular caste, and the other castes were not, historically, encouraged to strive for the same goals. Furthermore, as Kashyup confirms, most Hindu traditions don't accept even conversion (although a few modernist ones do).

    Hinduism simply does not have the same record of being transplanted into completely new cultures that say Buddhism has. Indeed, since few Buddhists now exist in India, if it hadn't made converts outside its originsl ethnic group it would barely exist anymore!

    If I converted to Hinduism, which caste would I be? There is no answer to that question, because castes are assigned based on ethnicity. In this respect Hinduism is clearly not a universal one, it is an ethnic one, even if it combines a few different ethnicities.

    As Kasyup says, this could make sense if every ethnicity has their own path to Brahman... but as for me, I don't believe that the spiritual teachings of all religions really are equivalent ways of talking about the same thing! If you think there are facts of the matter about which religions are more correct, then that is a different situation.

  12. Efraim Cooper says:

    You write: "It says something good about a religion if it can pick up a large number of voluntary converts."

    I seen no indication that the veracity of a faith will have any correlation to its growth. The percentage of believers that are involved in apologetics is miniscule, let alone "following the argument where it leads" . This is especially true of people who become religious; usually emotional and psychological factors are at play.

    I mean, sheesh, the fastest growing religion on earth, Mormonism (1), is literally the least credible religion of all (2) !!!

    I'm also not sure why you place such a premium on evangelism. This priority presupposes that its the goal of whatever truthful faith to indoctrinate others or bust. Judaism for example, doesn't require others to convert (3) and is essentially a prescription for all people's making it more encompassing than the evangelizing ones.




  13. Aron Wall says:

    I believe that I already brought up every one of these points in the essay I wrote, and responded to them there.

    I already acknowledged that popularity has only a weak correlation with truth. I gave some reasons to think that the correlation is nonetheless positive, and I explained why it would be difficult to avoid using the criterion of popularity entirely, since otherwise there are too many possibilities to reasonably investigate.

    And, far from ignoring the case of religions that do not proselytize, an entire section of my essay discussed that case specifically. I was pretty explicit about the fact that members of ethnic religions might have a good reason to consider the claims of the religion that they were born into, and that I wasn't trying to totally rule out a priori ethnic religions with a small number of adherents, but I also gave some reasons to think that they shouldn't be the first priority for an outsider to investigate.

    The percentage of believers that are involved in apologetics is miniscule, let alone "following the argument where it leads" .

    The significance of this point really depends on just how tiny the miniscule number is. As I said above, it only has to be 1 person in 1000 worldwide to get up to 7 million converts (and if a lot of people just copy the religion of other people they respect, or follow the religion of their parents, then those 7 million will in turn bring in millions more).

    Mind you, in the case of Judaism there is the issue that the numbers would probably be about double if it weren't for all the Jews murdered by Nazis. And it's fair to include (for purposes of this question) anyone who self-identifies as a Noahide believer, since (as you say, and as I also said) Judaism does not require individuals convinced of the truth of Judaism to become Jews. (Of course it is possible to keep the Noahide commandments without believing in any of the Jewish prophets, in fact that's sort of the point of the concept; but such individuals would not by doing so provide evidence for the truth of Judiasm specificially.) However, I believe that at the present day, the number of people who identify as Noahides is considerably smaller than the number of ethnic Jews.

    This is especially true of people who become religious; usually emotional and psychological factors are at play.

    Not all emotional and psychological factors pull people away from the truth. Some of them pull people towards the truth. I think I would question the attempt to draw too sharp of a dichotomy between emotional reasons and rational reasons, because they aren't completely separate. To me, one of the most important teachings of the Bible is that God rescues people, and this is hardly something which we humans engage with on an unemotional level. But I would say we also have rational reasons to think that God exists and acts to save people.

    I mean, sheesh, the fastest growing religion on earth, Mormonism (1), is literally the least credible religion of all (2) !!!

    My claim was:
    (1) A true religion will likely have many converts,
    (2) A religion with many converts is likely to be true.

    You can't get directly from (1) to (2) without committing the fallacy of the converse. And Mormonism is a counterexample to (2), not a counterexample to (1).

    Finally, if you don't mind my asking: if you don't believe it is important to try to convince other people that your religion is true, then why are you here on this blog arguing about it? (This is an honest question, not a sarcastic one.)

  14. Efraim Cooper says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond, I wasn't sure you were going to. As you may have noticed (more than once) I only skimmed through the article superficially and my comments may reflect that. I'll try and be more thorough in my response.

    AW: "I already acknowledged that popularity has only a weak correlation with truth. I gave some reasons to think that the correlation is nonetheless positive"

    Fair enough. I just suspect that the effects of truth on it would be dwarfed by the other factors at play, should we really expect to see traces of it in its popularity? Perhaps.

    AW: "and I explained why it would be difficult to avoid using the criterion of popularity entirely since otherwise there are too many possibilities to reasonably investigate."

    I agree.

    AW: "The significance of this point really depends on just how tiny the minuscule number is. As I said above, it only has to be 1 person in 1000 worldwide to get up to 7 million converts"

    Do you really think that the truthfulness will draw 1 in 1000? I don't know, maybe.

    AW: "in the case of Judaism there is the issue that the numbers would probably be about double if it weren't for all the Jews murdered by Nazis"

    If the holocaust never occured there would be an estimated 32,000,000 Jews (1). Now consider the pogroms, forced conversion, crusades among other Christian gifts, and the exponential growth we would have today had they never occurred. I imagine Judaism to be towards the top of that list.

    AW: "I think I would question the attempt to draw too sharp of a dichotomy between emotional reasons and rational reasons because they aren't completely separate."

    That's a really good point. I would just mention the following. The emotional and psychological factors may pull them to global truths such as kindness, community, family etc. that may be found in religion. Would that pull them to the one true religion?

    AW: "You can't get directly from (1) to (2) without committing the fallacy of the converse"

    Understood. I'm really just alluding to my earlier point, questioning how large of an effect truth will have on religion. It seems that of the things that entice believers, truth isnt one of them.

    AW: "if you don't believe it is important to try to convince other people that your religion is true, then why are you here on this blog arguing about it?"

    Because I'm an argumentative loudmouth. Just ask my wife.

  15. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for the candid admission. For most of the very reasonable points in your new comment, my answer is "Fair enough!"

    In particular, I think it is completely reasonable to take into consideration the following:

    Now consider the pogroms, forced conversion, crusades among other Christian gifts, and the exponential growth we would have today had they never occurred. I imagine Judaism to be towards the top of that list.

    I agree, although of course it gets harder to make confident predictions the farther back in history you go. For example, it's reasonable to think that if Christians had persecuted the Jews less, there would have been more voluntary conversions, as well as fewer involuntary ones. But that's not the history we actually had (post-Constantine, anyway).

    And of course these Christian actions were completely inexusable from the perspective of the New Testament. First of all, the large majority of Jews in history were not our enemies; but even if they were, Jesus said to "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either." (Luke 6:27-29)

    Regrettably, Christian leaders mostly drew the wrong conclusion from the fact that the Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to be killed. Instead of leaping to the unjustified conclusion that the Jews were uniquely horrible, they should have reasoned, "if we live in a world where God's own specially chosen people could kill the Messiah; then being chosen won't make us immune to doing terrible things either, so we must be careful to avoid betraying God's trust in us". But instead, they crucified their Savior a second time, by persecuting his beloved brothers and sisters. (It's no wonder that it's hard to get a serious hearing among Jews for the claims of Jesus, after a couple of millennia of hearing Jesus' name used as an excuse to harm them.)

    To get back to the question of evidence: The fact that all this stuff happened does provide substantial evidence against a naive view of Judaism (based on a selective reading of Jewish scripture) where God always acts to protect the righteous and never lets Israel come to harm unless they deserve it. But obviously, that's not the correct interpretation of Judaism (see, for example, the book of Job). And of course, no Christian could ever make such an argument, because the concept of God's anointed being an innocent sufferer is central to our claims about Jesus.

    (Of course, if somebody ever succeeded in wiping out all of the Jews, then that would conclusively falsify Judaism (and Christianity along with it) since the Jewish prophets explicitly promised this wouldn't happen.)

    That's a really good point. I would just mention the following. The emotional and psychological factors may pull them to global truths such as kindness, community, family etc. that may be found in religion. Would that pull them to the one true religion?

    It might if the thing they found emotionally attractive in the religion was the kindness and goodness of God's own actions. If God is both good and real, then the goodness of a religion's teachings about God provides some evidence that this religion accurately portrays God's character, which is more likely to happen if the religion is actually true.

  16. Efraim Cooper says:

    Fair enough!

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